On our way to the city of Zarqa, the stronghold of the Jihadist Salafist movement in Jordan, we were stopped by two Jihadists. Then we were transferred in one of their vehicles to the birthplace of the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Ahmed Fadel Khalayleh, also known as "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
The driver of the vehicle, with a large beard and a short Afghan gown that evening, was focused on a CD that he held between his hands. The volume was gradually increasing, until we were capable of clearly understanding the speeches of late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. There were also some revolutionary songs, which included sentences such as: "I am a terrorist... I gaze at the hills of Hattin [site of the battle where Saladin decisively defeated a Crusader army]... I am a terrorist, and I terrorize the enemies of religion."
The vehicle headed toward the slum where the sister of "Abu Musab” lives. A couple of months ago, her son Mohammed Fawzi al-Harahsheh joined al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen. His family recently announced that he fatally succumbed to shrapnel in a raid carried out last week against an al-Qaeda stronghold in the region of Abyen.
Entering that impoverished neighborhood, you can see Zarqawi's house, built from brick and concrete blocks. You can see the houses of his brothers and his close associates, as well as the small mosque that he used to attend.
As for the house of his sister, who is proud of her son's "martyrdom,"as she put it, is located in a narrow alley surrounded by the doors of poor houses.
Inside the house, people are still shocked and confused. However, they are proud that Mohammad moved to a "high level in Paradise."
Harahsheh is from the clan of Bani Hassan, the biggest in Jordan. Jordanian police chased him several months ago for being involved in the Zarqa events of April 2011, which led to clashes between the Jihadists and the security forces. More than 150 Salafists were arrested as a result, but were later released.
Immigration to Yemen
According to Salafist jihadist sources, Harahsheh — who was the father of two children and a vegetable seller in the central market of Amman — managed to infiltrate his way into Yemen. His goal was to fight alongside his "brothers" against US bases, as well as Yemeni military elements and Yemen's new government.
"Abu Hammam” was greatly influenced by al-Qaeda leaders, according to his brother Ali, who gave an interview to Al-Hayat in his house in Zarqa. He was also called little Zarqawi by his brothers, given his close resemblance to his uncle "Abu Musab."
Ali said, "When my uncle traveled to the battlefields, Ahmed was six years old. Before that, he always used to accompany him to the mosque of the neighborhood and throughout all of his visits here."
He continued, "He was always convinced of the necessity of Jihad. One day, he told me that he was deeply saddened by the situation in Syria. He wanted to go there to fight the Assad regime, but God chose Yemen for him."
On an old wooden chair, Harahsheh's father took a small picture out of his pocket and contemplated his murdered son. In a small room allocated for visitors, he said, "My son went to fight the infidels and the enemies of religion."
Sources in the Salafist jihadist movement told Al-Hayat that there are Jordanians from the movement fighting in Yemen, Somalia and the Caucasus. Many of the current Jordanian jihadists are those who left Afghanistan following the US occupation. However, the sources did not reveal their number. A leading figure in the movement, Dr. Munif Samara, told Al-Hayat: “Wherever there is Jihad, there are Jordanian fighters. Many of our brothers who left Jordan have become the backbone of the global Jihad against the infidel regimes and the blatant foreign interference in the countries of Islam."
As for the reasons leading Jordanian jihadists to Yemen, Samara confirmed that "moving the headquarters of al-Qaeda to Yemen made the jihadist objective pretty clear. Many Jordanians are fighting for al-Sharia, one of the most prominent arms of al-Qaeda."
Samara reveals the presence of fighters from the Jordanian Salafist Jihadist movement in several regions that are currently witnessing turbulence, confirming that some of them are supporting al-Qaeda in Somalia, Chechnya and the Caucasus.
Abed Shehadeh, a leader of the movement who is also known as "Abu Mohammed al-Tahawi," refused to talk about jihadist elements leaving Jordan "to look for martyrdom." He told Al-Hayat that he “does not answer questions related to security."
However, he stressed the need to participate in what he called the [defensive jihad] in any country, whenever possible.
According to Tahawi, defensive Jihad is called for when "rulers declare the killing of Muslims as lawful and fail to apply Sharia Law." He believes that this type of Jihad is being practiced in Yemen.
Logistically, there is the question of how these jihadists reach the heated regions in a number of countries, especially since many Jordanian jihadists are under house arrest or are being constantly chased by security forces. However, a leading Salafist source confirmed that in the past few years, many young jihadists have accumulated valuable experiences and achieved unlimited technical capabilities, which enables them to reach combat zones without trouble.
This leader said that "there are people specialized in smuggling fighters from one country to another and others in issuing forged travel documents. Our engagement with the international al-Qaeda movement should lead to underground coordination which facilitates the process of passing to and from the hotbeds of Jihad."
The Salafist leader Mohammad Shalabi, also known as Abu Sayyaf, told Al-Hayat that a general preference is emerging in the ranks of al-Qaeda to fight in Yemen instead of Iraq and Syria. This is because of "the clarity of the issue and the strong presence of al-Qaeda supporters in that country."
The Region Instead of Iraq
He stressed that "the Jihadists in Yemen are fighting the US, the Houthis and the regime," adding that the fighting in Yemen has become a legitimate duty that all Muslims have to carry out.
One expert on Islamic groups, Mohammad Abu Rumman, has become absorbed by research on Salafist groups in Jordan. He believes that al-Qaeda in Yemen "has become the region's center instead of Iraq. Yemen's heated regions are now playing an important role in inciting young Salafists who are eager to fight."
He says that "fighting in Yemen, Somalia and the Caucasus is much easier than fighting in Syria. In many of these areas, al-Qaeda is in control on the ground. It has a remarkable presence which allows it to carry out significant operations."
According to Abu Ramman, there is ideological "contradiction" when it comes to the justifications utilized by jihadists in Jordan and in Yemen. While "some jihadist leaders in Jordan refuse to use violence against the state, we find jihadist leaderships in Yemen who justify the targeting of state institutions."
He says that "Jordan is different from Yemen, because the regime here did not use weapons against Muslims. Our limited capacity in countries where defensive jihad is practiced, makes us carefully consider any position we take."
However, Abu Ramman is confident that those who leave Jordan to fight in Yemen and other countries do not represent the core of Mohammed Issam Barqawi’s ideas. Barqawi calls for peaceful actions. He sees these fighters as advocates of Zarqawi’s movement. They strictly adhere to violence as a means to achieve their objectives within Arab societies.
Palestinians Fleeing Syria Under House Arrest
In Ramtha, a Jordanian city close to the Syrian border, behind high walls surrounded with barbed wire, local authorities are in the process of building a “special type” of camp for refugees fleeing the Syrian regime’s crackdown. Inside this camp, Palestinians who hold Syrian papers are kept under house arrest, deprived of their basic human rights. The Palestinians describe the camp as a “prison” surrounded by dozens of policemen armed with batons and light weapons.
A tortuous and bumpy road led us to the camp’s back gates. Access through the main road was risky; approaching the camp was prohibited by the local authorities which had designated it “a security zone.”
All of our attempts to enter the camp to listen to the refugees’ complaints and shed light on their suffering failed. Security forces holding batons and threatening to use tear gas prevented us from getting near the site.
The tragic scene of the walls and barbed wire surrounding the camp reflects the dramatic conditions of the refugees imprisoned inside.
The children’s screams and the cry of men and women from behind the windows begging for help disturbed the silence of the site. This was another miserable scene of the hundreds of Palestinians who have entered Jordan to escape the Syrian regime’s crackdown on Syrian cities.
There are conflicting reports on the number of Palestinians holding Syrian papers who fled to Jordan. The Jordanian Government refused to provide any accurate figure. However, certain humanitarian organizations said the Palestinian refugees in Jordan number 300. According to another organization 600 refugees were transferred to the camp of “Cyber City” which was established on the outskirts of Ramtha, away from populated areas.
This camp was once a residential complex for Asian workers who worked in industrial cities in the Jordanian north. However, following a Human Rights Watch investigation into the site’s “unacceptable” conditions, the Jordanian government evicted the complex.
Many refugees told Al-Hayat how they fled to the camps at Yamrouk and Deraa in Syria where they were “illegally arrested” within residential areas. They also talked about the makeshift tents provided to them by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in “Cyber City.”
Some refugees were able to smuggle cell phones into the camp. Countless text messages were sent to recipients outside describing their grievances. Palestinian refugees were banned from leaving the camp during their stay in Jordan. They were not treated equally when compared to their Syrian refugee counterparts. The sick and wounded Palestinian refugees were prevented from receiving treatment and were only provided with one meal a day. It must be noted that all of these meals were handed out at UNRWA’s expense.
Ahmed, a 30-year-old Palestinian refugee coming from the Palestinian refugee camp at Deraa told Al-Hayat how he crossed the Syrian-Jordanian border. “The sound of explosions and bullets fired by the regime’s guns to prevent refugees from crossing the border were deafening. We fled to Jordan, escaping a nightmare. However, we were surprised by the Jordanian government’s decision to detain us in the so-called ‘Cyber City’ because we are Palestinians!”
Ahmed spoke about a “sense of oppression.” “In Syria, we were killed and bombed. In Jordan, we are deprived. We have been denied medical treatment, food and water. There is no life within the walls of this dreary camp,” he added.
Samer, 27, is Ahmed’s friend. He spends his days in his small room inside the Jordanian camp. Samer has been begging camp officials to take him to the hospital to treat the shrapnel wounds in his hand which he blames on “Assad’s Shabiha” thugs.
“My brother and I were returning home after a long, hard day at the construction site. My brother was shot in the right thigh,” said Samer. “When I arrived in Jordan, I was carried on people's shoulders. When we arrived to the city of Ramtha I was given first aid. Afterwards, some security personnel transferred us to the Palestinian camp,” he added.
According to the Jordanian writer Yasser Abu Hilala of Al-Ghad newspaper, “heinous crimes are being committed by the security forces against the Palestinian refugees coming from Syria.”
Samer added that “an evil spirit controls the Jordanian Government and it has no qualms about showing hostility towards Palestinians. Palestinians should at least be treated like Egyptians or Filipino workers, who enter the country without any constraints.”
However, a well-informed source within the Jordanian decision-making structure told Al-Hayat that some security officials are warning of a massive exodus of Palestinians from Syria into Jordan. “Over the past few days, the Kingdom has received hundreds of Palestinians refugees. We fear that a large influx of those will continue to pour into Jordan,” said a security source.
According to the same source, the Jordanian situation cannot cope with additional numbers of Palestinians. Authorities fear that Jordan will become an alternative home for the Palestinians especially seen as half of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin. A prominent Jordanian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "the Kingdom is restricting the entry of Palestinians refugees coming from Syria, as it fears that they will spread throughout the country.”
However, Samih Moaytah, the spokesman of the Jordanian government said that “the Jordanian state is providing the necessary services to all refugees fleeing Syria, regardless of their nationality.” In a statement to Al-Hayat, Moaytah denied “any hostility toward Palestinians from Syria,” confirming that the government “is providing help to all refugees, within its capabilities.” However, he added that “the large influx of Palestinian refugees flowing into the Kingdom of Jordan makes it imperative for the Government to take certain actions (…)”
Moaytah said that the number of Palestinian refugees holding Syrian ID papers numbers between 500 and 600. He also pointed out that, according to official government data, the number of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan since the beginning of the revolution has reached 150,000. The Kingdom has welcomed the refugees and left them under the care of the humanitarian organizations.
It should be noted that over the past period, the Kingdom of Jordan has received large numbers of Syrian refugees. Some Syrians have entered the Kingdom legally. However, the majority of them have done so illegally — especially those who defected from the Syrian army.